Posts Tagged US Constitution

Does anyone really care about gun control?

The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman struck a deeply upsetting chord with most Americans. It was a senseless killing with a disturbingly racial dimension. However, it is possible to prevent incidents like this without resolving over 200 years of racial tension overnight. The answer is simple: Florida should repeal its “Stand Your Ground” law. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen.

The anti-repeal crowd already has its troops mustered, as one would expect of people that spend their time playing with M16s and M1911s. “The media is using Martin’s death as an excuse to attack gun ownership,” they might say. Groups like the NRA exist solely to fight that threat, which enthusiastic gun owners view as an attack on their Second Amendment rights. In reality, they shouldn’t be so worried.

Gun advocates have the Republican Party on their side. Even straight-laced Mitt Romney admitted to shooting a few “critters” and “varmants.” Republicans love guns, which is odd, because they seem to hate everything else. We known Republicans don’t like taxes, abortions, gays, Muslims, Atheists, immigrants, the government, and Michael Moore. However, it’s unusual for the GOP to be candid about something its members actually like.

It also gives the Democrats a unique opportunity. If their opponents can stir up fear and vitriol about taxes and healthcare, imagine what the Dems could say about guns, which are weapons, which are designed to kill things. The Democrats will never stand up for gun regulation, though, and that’s why this whole situation is so intractable.

The Democrats are ostensibly the party of gun regulation, but unlike the Republicans they prefer pragmatism over ideology. The Republicans take absolute positions on issues; they’re right (no pun intended), and everyone else is wrong. The Democrats see things in a more nuanced way. They support gun regulation; they don’t think guns are inherently evil. Just look at gun-toting Vice President Joe Biden.

It is important to consider other people’s viewpoints, but something has to be done about the Florida law. Holding someone responsible for shooting another person is not radical or totalitarian, it’s just common sense. Repealing “Stand Your Ground” would also show that politicians really care about what happens to their constituents, and not just the ones with a massive lobbying organization supporting them.

Today, politics are extremely polarized, but I think we can all agree that if one person kills another, they should not get off scott-free. George Zimmerman will have ample opportunity to prove his innocence at trial, just like any other American citizen. Gun owners have plenty of powerful allies, but someone needs to stand up for everyone else.

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The government is forcing us to pay for our medicine

Supreme Court protestors

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing was unusually lively. People with signs stood outside America’s highest court, and justices sparred verbally with Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. This is a momentous occasion in American politics. The biggest piece of social legislation in generations, President Obama’s healthcare reform law, is on trial.

The central issue in Tuesday’s arguments was whether the federal government can require people to get health insurance; what the administration calls the “minimum coverage provision,” popularly known as the “individual mandate.” Verilli cited Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the federal government power over interstate commerce. The purchase of health services is part of interstate commerce, the administration argued.

The opposition argued that, since people without health insurance are not engaging in such an act of commerce, they cannot be regulated. In this view, the government would be forcing people to purchase something from a private company.

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. likened the individual mandate to the government forcing everyone to buy cell phones.

I am not a lawyer, but I do think Justices Kennedy and Roberts, and their conservative allies, are misinterpreting the implications of the health care law. If health insurance, and the health services it pays for, were a frivolous consumer product, they would be right. However, everyone needs to see a doctor at some point during their life. A health insurance mandate is simply stating the obvious: everyone needs to have a way to pay for their healthcare.

This simple fact has gotten caught up in a vicious debate over American freedoms that doesn’t need to be continued here. The bottom line is that everyone gets sick, medical services are expensive, and we should not kid ourselves otherwise. If your insurance company pays for your medication, that doesn’t make you the lackey of an authoritarian state. It does make you a more productive member of society, and we could use more of those.

People may be spooked by the idea of the government mandating something, but that’s kind of what it does. Congress is empowered by the people to make laws, and it has used its power over interstate commerce to regulate plenty of things. According to the New York Times, Congress used the commerce clause to regulate how much wheat is grown on family farms, and to stop home-grown marijuana. Those seem like fairly local, private, concerns, but no one seemed to care when the federal government got involved.

Some might argue that selling wheat and weed are economic transactions, while the decision not to buy health insurance is a form of inactivity. Does anyone who opposes the healthcare law own a car? If they plan on driving said car, they’ll need car insurance. As with health insurance, the people’s elected officials decided that car insurance was a necessity, and that everyone should have it.

If you get in a car accident, would it be fair if the person who hit you couldn’t pay to repair your car, so you had to fix it? Similarly, is it fair to spend the rest of your life paying medical bills after getting sick once? As a business owner, is it fair to lose an employee who can’t afford medical treatment, or customers who don’t have any  money to spend after paying their medical bills? Everyone needs a secure way to pay for their healthcare, Obama’s healthcare law is just making sure that they get one.

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Tyranny of the majority

America, to use an oft-quoted phrase, is a melting pot of different cultures. Through a constant stream of immigrants, a unique culture has emerged from bits and pieces of others. Yet America has never had a problem with identity crisis: for most of the country’s existence, people have had a very clear idea of what is “American.” But who gets to decide what is (and isn’t) American?

Apparently, rednecks get most of the casting votes. On a commercial for a new discovery channel show, a stereotypical “good ‘ole boy” declares “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love moonshine.” In their song “Red, White & Blue,” Lynyrd Skynyrd sing “if they don’t like it they can just get the hell out.”

If a Jewish deli owner went on television and said “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love pastrami,” how would people react? They might say that one individual should not tell others that his regional subculture is more American than theirs. The same goes for illegal distillers and their white lightning.

Another important group are Christians. Around this time of the year, there are always a few arguments about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Most people act like rational human beings and see this for what it is: a non-issue. However, others take it very seriously; just look at the comments on this blog post about holiday political correctness. The Christmas warriors argue that, since the majority of Americans are Christian, everyone should have to say “Merry Christmas.”

The Founding Fathers feared a “tyranny of the majority,” the arbitrary use of democracy in ways to were harmful to the nation and the rights of minorities. By writing off certain things as “less American” than others, we bring ourselves dangerously close to a cultural tyranny of the majority. There’s room for everyone, and people who think they can decide what is and is not American need to remember that.

Regardless of who has the majority, everyone’s right to religious freedom and the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed by the Constitution. As far as that document is concerned, Manishevitz is just as American as moonshine.

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